Another Blow to Tort Reform in Florida: Statute Allowing Defendants in Medical Malpractice Suits to Hold Ex Parte Interviews with the Aggrieved Patient’s Care Providers Declared Unconstitutional

By Alex Stein

STEIN on Medical Malpractice has recently published a survey of noteworthy court decisions in the field for 2017. This survey includes an important decision, Weaver v. Myers, 229 So.3d 1118 (Fla. 2017), that voided Florida statute allowing defendants in medical malpractice suits to hold ex parte interviews with the aggrieved patient’s care providers.

The case at bar involved a medical malpractice suit filed in connection with the patient’s allegedly wrongful death. The defendants attempted to take advantage of Florida’s pre-suit discovery statute, Fla. Stat. Ann. §§ 766.106, 766.1065. This statute authorized defense attorneys to hold secret ex parte interviews with all doctors and organizations that have ever provided treatment to the deceased patient.

The Florida Supreme Court decided that this statute violates the broad constitutional right to privacy under Fla. Const. art. 1, § 23. The Court reasoned that “The ex parte secret interview provisions of sections 766.106 and 766.1065 fail to protect Florida citizens from even accidental disclosures of confidential medical information that falls outside the scope of the claim because there would be no one present on the claimant’s behalf to ensure that the potential defendant, his insurers, his attorneys, or his experts do not ask for disclosure of information from a former treating health care provider that is totally irrelevant to the claim.” The Court also clarified that “the right to privacy in the Florida Constitution attaches during the life of a citizen and is not retroactively destroyed by death. Here, the constitutional protection operates in the specific context of shielding irrelevant, protected medical history and other private information from the medical malpractice litigation process. Furthermore, in the wrongful death context, standing in the position of the decedent, the administrator of the decedent’s estate has standing to assert the decedent’s privacy rights. Finally, the Legislature unconstitutionally conditioned a plaintiff’s right of access to courts for redress of injuries caused by medical malpractice, whether in the wrongful death or personal injury context, on the claimant’s waiver of the constitutional right to privacy.”

Generics, Bioequivalence, and Justice

By Matthew L Baum

I have written previously on this blog about morally modifying technologies (here and here), which by definition work no better than existing technologies but enable the side-stepping of a moral tension associated with the first technology. Generic pharmaceuticals are a particularly well-known and widely endorsed form of morally modifying technology: they have no therapeutic advantage over name-brand drugs, but by costing less enable the sidestepping of some of the difficult moral issues involved in rationing healthcare.   With the current public focus on limiting the rising cost of healthcare, moreover, there is increasing emphasis on the development and use of generics as a cost-saving measure. Jonathan J. Darrow has already written on this blog questioning whether we should celebrate increasing public endorsement of the development of these drugs that bring with them no new therapeutic benefit. But I would like to highlight in this post a different challenge to the responsible pursuit of a golden age of generics: bioequivalence.

Helping the development costs of generics to stay low, the FDA has an abbreviated approvals process that hinges on the generic being shown ‘bioequivalent’ to the name-brand drug (on top of requiring the generic to contain the same active chemical and be taken by the same route and dosage form) [See here and here]. Bioequivalence may sound reasonable, but many would be surprised to learn that it does not mean therapeutic equivalence.

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Uncertain Future for the Same-Specialty Law in Florida

By Alex Stein

Florida statute, § 766.102(12) (2012), lays down a strict same-specialty requirement for expert witnesses supporting medical malpractice allegations. Specifically, it provides that “If a physician licensed under chapter 458 or chapter 459 or a dentist licensed under chapter 466 is the party against whom, or on whose behalf, expert testimony about the prevailing professional standard of care is offered, the expert witness must be licensed under chapter 458, chapter 459, or chapter 466 or possess a valid expert witness certificate issued under s. 458.3175, s. 459.0066, or s. 466.005.”

The Florida Bar Code and Rules of Evidence Committee recommended the Florida Supreme Court to adopt this statutory provision “as a rule of procedure to the extent that it is procedural.”

The Board of Governors recommended the Court to reject the Committee’s proposal “on the grounds that the provision is unconstitutional, will have a chilling effect on the ability to obtain expert witnesses, and is prejudicial to the administration of justice.”

The Court declined to follow the Committee’s recommendation due to the concerns raised. See here. The Court had another good reason for declining to adopt this recommendation: the provision in question is substantive rather than procedural. See here.